During the course of my human resources and legal career, I have had such fun experiences as three stalkers, four bomb threats, eggs thrown at my car (twice), “I’m watching you right now” telephone calls (about 10) and a box of rotting hamburger mailed to my office. Still, there was only one time during these many years when I wondered if I was actually going to survive an encounter. It was October 1980 and Santa tried to strangle me.
I was working in my first true human resources position, although no one called it “human resources” in those days. I was lucky to have the job because I was not all that qualified. A large – but cheap – non-profit organization hired me to be its Personnel Manager on the strength of my two-day management training program at a local bank. This particular non-profit was known for its charitable work, but by far its main efforts were devoted to fund raising. They hired hundreds of people every year to handle the phone banks and data processing. It was hundreds because they paid so little and turnover was nuts. They needed someone to herd the applicants and I was that person.
One of the perks of my job was a real office. The downside was they put my office in a stand-alone annex far from where anyone else worked. Applicants arrived at the main reception area and then had to follow a narrow sidewalk across a large grassy area about the length of a football field to get to me. But hey, it was a real office with windows and a door. I had arrived.
The organization did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings (translation: “any possible donor’s feelings”), so the policy was to interview everyone who submitted an application. Everyone. (I now know how stupid that was: “Even if someone is obviously unqualified, let’s get his or her hopes up so we can dash them!”)
One day, Boopsie the receptionist (not her real name) called to ask if I had time to interview an applicant without an appointment who had just finished filling out his application. Being Mr. Nice Guy, I said yes so he would not have to make a return trip even though it meant delaying my lunch break. Boopsie sent him on the long walk and I busied myself with paperwork until he arrived. When a dark shadow crossed my desk a few minutes later, I looked up and saw a man roughly the size of a mature redwood. He made football linebackers look petite. I was not totally sure how he cleared the entry but stopped wondering about the physics when I noticed the stench. Gigantor and soap had not yet been introduced. His tangled beard had the potential of providing shelter to three families of mice and his eyes bounced around like over-caffeinated ping pong balls. He was the perfect image of a Hell’s Angels leader without the rest of his gang.
Without a word, he handed me his application. I think he tried to smile, but the overall effect was more unsettling than it was comforting due to the seven or eight missing teeth and the hint of cigarettes and stale beer that escaped through the gaps.
I squeaked out a hello –proud of myself for being able to do even that without whimpering – and asked him to be seated. I then made a production of reviewing his form. Here’s what it said:
Last Name: Kringle
First Name: Kris
Position Desired: Santa
Address: North Pole
Over-confident twit that I was, I thought I would soon be able to end the interview and send Goliath on his way.
“We don’t have an opening for Santa,” I told him in my most professional and empathetic manner, “but we’ll get in touch if something comes up.”
I stood. He stayed seated. After an awkward silence, I sat back down.
“You don’t understand,” he said. “I really am Santa.”
There really is nothing to say to that, now is there? I don’t think so now and I tried very hard to think of something back then.
“Having the real Santa here for Christmas will make this the best holiday season ever for your outreach,” he said. “The publicity will be amazing. I have picked you because you do so many good things for so many people.”
“That’s great. But we aren’t planning to hire a Santa this year –“
“You aren’t getting it. I picked you. This is an honor.”
“Indeed it is, but –“
Before I could finish what I was saying, Mr. Kringle reached across my desk, grabbed my necktie and lifted me out of my chair. It quickly became difficult to breathe. He pulled my face close to his and stared into my eyes until he knew he had my complete attention.
It did not take long.
“Let me put it this way. Either I am going to be Santa, or you won’t be around for New Year’s.”
Instead of fainting, I considered my escape and defensive options. There were none. The Hulk was between the door and me. Even if I somehow managed to break his grasp on my tie, I would not be able to make it to the door. As for defensive options – forget about it. He could easily have picked me up and snapped me like a twig.
I’ve heard some people say that your life passes before you at moments like this. That was not my experience. I did not see any highlights of the Jim Webber Show. The only thing on my mind was how glad I was not to have had too much coffee because I did not want to wet my pants. Being strangled would have been bad enough, but I did not want to be discovered with wet pants. That’s what I was thinking. Exactly. I also remember thinking that my mom would be glad that I was wearing underwear with no holes.
Thankfully, I started out as a theater major in college and knew the fundamentals of improvisation.
He relaxed his grip. “But you said –“
“Forget what I said. Do you have any idea how many Santa imposters there are? They’re everywhere. I had to be sure and now I’m sure. You’re hired.”
“You won’t be sorry!”
“Could you let go of me now? Even Santa has to pay taxes, so I need to get the I.R.S. forms to make this official. They are at the main office. You sit here and I’ll go get them.”
He let go, probably just to get me to stop talking. (I tend to babble when I’m upset.) I walked out of my office and then raced across the grass to Boopsie in Reception. I was sweaty, out of breath and slightly hysterical. I can’t blame Boopsie for not being too concerned when I shrieked, “Santa just tried to strangle me!”
She laughed and told me I was such a kidder. Then she went back to filing – her nails.
By the time I convinced Boopsie that a lunatic really was sitting in my office and she called the police, it was too late. Mr. Kringle had given up on me and departed. I never saw him again. (If you’re reading this Mr. Kringle – that’s totally O.K. No need to call or anything.)
Here are the valuable lessons I learned from this experience and want to pass on to you:
- Don’t let visitors come between you and your office door. Always make sure that you have a clear escape route even if it means weird furniture arrangements.
- Clip-on ties aren’t so bad.
- Theater and liberal arts courses can save your life.
- Coal in your stocking is not so bad compared to other things Santa can do.
- “Call 9-1-1!” is far more effective than shrieking that Santa just tried to strangle you.
- Human Resources is just as hazardous as commercial fishing or being a lumberjack. Some times.
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